BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Shiloh Christian head football coach Jeff Conaway is known as one of the nicest guys around, but he admits that he might not have been that well liked by his team last week.
That’s because the Saints did not have a game in what’s called week zero and had to sit and watch a lot of other teams get their seasons underway.
They will open their 2022 season Friday night at 7 p.m. by hosting Little Rock Christian (1-0), who routed Little Rock Central 41-6 last week.
“It was miserable,” Conaway said. “I was very irritable because we weren’t playing and it felt like everybody else was.
“But we do feel like there were some advantages it. We got a chance to go watch Little Rock Christian play Friday night in person and I do think our players are a little irritable and feel like caged animals so that’s a positive. I do think overall our legs are fresh, our bodies aren’t beat up and we have been very strategic with how we have been practicing and maintaining our conditioning.
“…I think we will play edgy, I think we will play fresh, I think we will fly around and we will be excited to play. We may not win, but I think we will play with a lot of speed and tenacity.”
The game will feature two of the state’s best quarterbacks in Little Rock Christian junior Walker White (6-4, 215) and Shiloh Christian senior Eli Wisdom (6-0, 175).
White has an offer from Arkansas as well as Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Louisville, TCU, Tulsa, Syracuse, Virginia and others.
He led the Warriors, who return seven offensive and six defensive starters to a 10-3 mark last season while passing for 2,032 yards with 23 touchdowns and rushing for 483 yards and five more scores.
“I think from a match-up perspective that they have some really good talent at a lot of spots on both sides of the football,” Conaway said. “Obviously everyone would start at the quarterback position, he is very solid and the real deal. He is a big body kid that can run when he wants to. There is not a throw that he can’t make just because of the strength of his arm.
“So he is the real deal and they’ve also got some guys around that are very athletic and can turn those short passes into explosive plays or hand it off to the sophomore back. He is a short, stocky, hard runner.
“Offensively we are definitely going to have our hands full. And defensively I could just repeat that. They look really good at a lot of positions. They do some things that aren’t traditional with their defensive schemes so we are going to have to make sure we are prepared.”
Wisdom, who passed for 2,991 yards and rushed for 1,021 whole accounting for 54 touchdowns, has offers from the University of Central Florida and Tulane and intrest from Arkansas, Memphis and others.
Wisdom is going into this third year as the starting signal caller for the Saints, who were 13-2 last season and return three starters on offense and five on defense after losing current Arkansas linebacker Kaden Henley, who had over 400 tackles at Shiloh.
“There is no doubt about it, he is really, really good, Conaway said of Wisdom. “There is not a day or week that goes by that we aren’t thankful we have him. He is just so versatile. He’s a senior this year and he has done a great job of developing some guys around him this year because he knows we are going to need them.
“There is not a scheme that we can put in that we don’t feel comfortable. Number one, cognitively he is going to understand it and two, he is going to coach them up. We can continue to grow our playbook because we have a second coach on the field.
“He’s as accurate as he has ever been, he’s fast, he’s healthy and we really need him to score, I don’t know, about seven or right touchdowns in this game Friday night.”
Shiloh’s roster also includes senior defensive end/linebacker JT Odom (6-2, 220) and sophomore reserve signal caller Garrett Odom (6-0, 165), both sons of Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom.
Visitors to Friday night’s game will notice construction underway on a new football facility right by the Field of Champions Stadium.
Conaway believes that is needed as his program makes the move from Class 4A to 5A this season.
“We are so excited and they can’t get that thing built quickly enough,” Conaway said. “We have really worked on it for a long time and to see movement out there is very encouraging. “We really believe that is a game-changer for us. We think we are pretty efficient right now in terms of development athletes, but that is only going to help maximize it.
“We are going to be able to develop more athletes at an even faster past once we get that built. We are excited, thrilled and very blessed.”
Shiloh now finds itself in a 5A-West Conference with Farmington, Harrison, Alma, Prairie Grove, Dardanelle, Clarksville and Pea Ridge.
The last the Saints were in Class 5A was in 2012 and 2013 when they went 12-8-1 a far cry from four straight conference titles and three consecutive trips to the Class 4A state championship game.
Shiloh has won 53 games in the last four seasons.
“The challenges are real and we are going to play some teams that, let’s be honest, are better, they got more players, they got more coaches, they got better facilities, but I think that only sharpens us,” Conaway said. “That forces us to be better. I have got better as the head coach, our assistants have to get better, our players have to get better and be bigger and stronger and faster.
“We have been telling them all spring and all summer to expect to block people that are 20 pounds heavier. Expect to have to tackle people that are two-tenths faster. Is it really that easy? I don’t know, but we really do believe that level of play is going to be more difficult so we have to make sure we are rising to that occasion.”